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Tuberculosis: 17 Questions and Answers

Confused About Tuberculosis Headlines? Get the Facts

How is TB treated?

"Ninety-five percent of people will respond to the combination of the four first-line drugs -- isoniazid, rifampin, pyrazinamide, ethambutol," Hamilton says.

Drug-resistant tuberculosis is rarer and XDR TB is rarer still, affecting "a few cases per year" in the U.S., Hamilton says.

"But in other countries, it's really increasing," Hamilton says. "So it is true that it's not that far away. Our TB program budgets have been cut every year, and so we get less and less able to respond to this sort of thing."

Hamilton also warns that "if our regular TB cases aren't managed appropriately and aggressively, they can become drug resistant. While we don't want to engender panic, it's a real concern."

What about surgery?

Surgery may be done to remove damaged areas of the lungs if drug treatments fail for XDR TB.

Speaker got lung surgery on July 17 to remove parts of his lung affected by tuberculosis. The operation was performed at the University of Colorado Hospital at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, Colo., by John D. Mitchell, MD, chief of general thoracic surgery at the University of Colorado Hospital.

Speaker's operation was done with a minimally invasive technique called video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS).

In VATS, surgeons access the lung through a 2-inch incision in the patient's side, as well as two incisions (each 1-centimeter long) for surgical instruments and a tiny, fiberoptic camera.

The infected part of Speaker's lung has been described as roughly the size of a tennis ball, notes the National Jewish Medical and Research Center.

Marvin Pomerantz, MD, director of the Center for the Surgical Treatment of Lung Infections at the University of Colorado at Denver Health Sciences Center, tells WebMD that he wouldn’t call lung surgery a last resort.

“I'd call it part of the overall treatment of the difficult cases of tuberculosis," with more antibiotic treatment after the operation, Pomerantz says.

What transatlantic flights did Speaker take?

According to the CDC, he flew on two transatlantic flights in May:

  • Air France flight 385 (Delta co-share flight 8517): Departed Atlanta on May 12, arrived in Paris on May 13
  • Czech Airlines flight 0104: Departed Prague, Czech Republic on May 24, arriving in Montreal on the same day

What should passengers on those flights do?

Call the CDC at 800-CDC-INFO for information on tuberculosis testing.

Passengers likely to be at highest risk for potential tuberculosis transmission during those flights were sitting in Speaker's row and in the two rows in front or behind him, notes CDC Director Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH.

Gerberding says the CDC has been in touch with 74 U.S. citizens and residents on the Air France/Delta flight, including all 26 passengers who were believed to be sitting in the high-risk rows around Speaker's seat.

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